My New Office Is Amazing!

My new office! ::: Big Grin::: We are so close to announcing our new non-profit’s name! We want to make sure all our ducks are in a row, and quacking, first. That said, I have pitched the organizational mission/vision/implementation ideas to several key folks. They have all been incredibly encouraging and supportive.

Rev. Terri loved the idea of it so much she gave me this room at Joy Metropolitan Community Church to work out of. This was my first day to do so! It is the old youth room and a current makeshift storage area for the remodeling going on in another part of the church. I love it! We can play ping pong during brainstorming sessions, and I have a place to prop up all the closet doors we rip off so people can come out safely into authenticity and freedom! (Look at the photo again if you don’t get the reference :)).

She apologized for the mess, and I told her that I thought it is amazing and I am grateful. Plus, given the fact that during my local ex-gay ministry days, my office was literally in a closet at our main host church (when I left), this seemed palatial :). Isn’t it fitting that my ex-gay ministry office in Texas was in a closet? I think it was a sign I was unwilling to see.

Plus, once Dan get’s let loose in here… it will be a very nice office to meet with people in … someday. Until then, did you see the bean bag chairs in the back on the right? Yes! Ping Pong, busted closet door collection, and nap time! I love this new beginning and look forward to seeing what manifests.

If you would like to keep updated via a special email list I am creating for the new organization, please leave a comment or contact me privately at randy(at)randythomas.blog, or via the secure online form by clicking here. Thanks!

One Tender Shoot – Lessons From a Wind-Whipped Banana Plant

The storms of life can threaten to destroy beauty, but will only succeed if we lose hope.

We have a number of plants in the yard that I love. Bella, the Banana Plant, is definitely my favorite. We have Bella and Baby Bella (yes, I name plants and cars and everything). Before the storm, Bella was throwing up a beautiful new leaf about every 7-9 days. Growing, growing, growing! Every slight wind gave Bella a chance to dance. She was always bouncing and growing; Bella is a happy Banana plant.

For all the logic smart people reading this, stop rolling your eyes. Happy dancing banana plants are a thing … really.

However, Hurricane Irma abused Bella, horribly. I came home to find her in tatters. Pulling up to the house and into the driveway, I breathed a sigh of relief that the HUGE oak trees in the front yard had not fallen. The house looked beat up but ok. However, I almost immediately went to check on Bella. My heart sank a bit as it looked like every bit of her had been ripped and torn.

Except for one tender shoot that looked like it was trying to come up.

We had to move on and check out the house inside and out. Everything was ok, but plenty of shingles had been torn off the roof. Also, big trees and large tree limbs were down in the backyard. The fence in the back was badly damaged as well. The house inside was just as we left it and no windows were cracked or broken.

The next morning I checked out Bella a little more carefully. You can’t really tell in the photo to the right, but some of the leaves had wrapped around or folded over the tender shoot coming up. I am not a botanist, but instinct said that can’t be a good thing, so I unfolded and try to clear the way for the new growth. And yes, I am the middle-aged guy you see in the front yard talking to plants. I said, “Bella, you fight for this. You’ll be back to dancing soon.” When Dwayne and Dante (our landlords) came over to help clean up the yard, they pruned off all the dead and dying leaves and left the one shoot to grow.

Like plenty of others, I often look at nature and see direct symbolism that correlates with our own journey in this world. this is one of those situations.

There aren’t many folks in the world who don’t know what it is like to be happy bouncy one day only to have everything stripped away during a raging storm or life situations. Many people know what it is like to have tragedy swallow up and threaten to destroy any chance of future growth. They know what it is like to have the remnants of a dead or dying past surround potential healing with discouragement. Many of us know and what it is like to move through life with ease only to be sidelined and encumbered by memories of dreams that died too quickly.

Yes, many people know far more pain than they should. Yet, as long as we draw breath remember to look for that one small shoot trying to find its way into the sunlight, there is hope.

Bella’s lone shoot started unfurling into the morning breeze today.

Bella is a banana plant. She doesn’t know or care who I am, but our efforts to bring her back to health is something she couldn’t do on her own. The knowledge and abilities we have helped release her to be able to thrive again. I am not God, thank goodness or the world would have ended when I was a two-year-old having a tantrum. However, like Bella with our help, it’s important to remember that God is so much more than our awareness of who He is and His love for us as our Creator and Caretaker. He understands what we really need to grow and thrive so much more than we do.

He sees the storms we go through and how they effect SO much more than what we can see and perceive. He is faithful to come and remove hindrances that would confine or halt our future. When we may not see or understand a way to get the bounce back in our step and dance in the wind, He comes along to prune away the old version of ourselves, the one that threatens to stifle this new season, so that healing and growth can continue.

The storm seeks to steal beauty, but the core of who we are as treasured souls will never be defeated. We are worth being cared for, protected, encouraged and watched over as we fight to thrive again.

After the storm, that one tender shoot will fill out and bring forward others. We will be back to dancing soon.

Being free is good,

Thoughts On The “Nashville Statement”

When it comes to the Nashville Statement, I watched it play out in real time on social media. I denounced it both on Twitter and in comments on various posts on Facebook. Even so, definitely wanted to blog a few thoughts now that I have had a few days to chew on it.

“There’s Nothing New Under The Sun.” – It’s The Same Old Same Old

Everything that was said in the statement has been said a million times before by culture warrior religious leaders seeking to stigmatize LGBTQ+ people. That said, it is uniquely damaging in that it is possibly the first time some young people have seen such organized hatred. Plus, every time a statement like this is made, it opens old and inflicts deep new wounds. This is not the Gospel of Christ, it is the curse of modern day religious Pharisees who deny that the love of Christ would bless and affirm LGBTQ+ lives, relationships, marriages, and families.

By the way, He does.

Christians United

I am honored to be one of the initial signatories of the Christians United response and am very encouraged to see a genuine groundswell of love centered Christ followers directly and roundly condemning the Nashville Statement. It is a really good statement so check it out!

Who wasn’t on the list?

I hate to admit it but I was actually encouraged by one thing, one missing element, in the Nashville Statement; not a single current Restored Hope Network (RHN, ex-gay/conversion network) leader was listed on it. One former Exodus staff member (Mike Goeke) and speaker (Christopher Yuan) were on there. The infamous “homosexualism” hater Robert Gagnon (former board member of RHN) was listed as well. However, neither Anne Paulk, Stephen Black, Andy Comiskey or any of the RHN network leaders were included as initial signatories. I might have missed someone but I was encouraged that RHN wasn’t included. Maybe they aren’t seen by others as the go-to resource for evangelicals regarding all things ex-gay?

Among a myriad of possibilities I could think of, it is possible that they may have been invited but declined to sign it. I could easily see them aligning with other fringe religious right activists who believe that the Nashville Statment doesn’t hate Gay Christians enough. Who knows? And, it doesn’t really matter. it says something to me that current RHN leaders were not included as initial signatories.

Be Encouraged

And while this is just the most recent salvo in the culture war between religious stigma and LGBTQ+ equality. There are *many* progressive Christ followers and resources out there to counter all these old culturally derived curses with true life-giving apologetics and resources. Plus, every time this type of thing rolls around, the voices of love gain strength, clarity, volume and numbers of people willing to speak up.

for LGBTQ+ Christians

I believe culturally derived Christianity, as we have known it, is failing under its own ego, personal ambitions, and addiction to influence and power. Christ followers are truly returning to our first love in Christ alone and not depending on others to validate our place in the Body of Christ. We do not need to seek the permission of the Nashville Statement’s signers or supporters. We do not have to subordinate ourselves to them as “the voice” of Christianity into our culture either. We, LGBTQ+ Christ followers and our allies, have a place because He is our Lord and Savior whether anyone else agrees or not. Christ is our strength and we will rise to each and every occasion with love, direct and careful confrontation, and grace.

for LGBTQ+ Community (as a whole)

In a nutshell, religious stigma empowers anti-LGBTQ+ hatred in all sectors of society. You may not see this type of thing as your battle to pick, and maybe it isn’t. But please be encouraged that some of us in the midst of all this understand, all too well, how this type of effort has been used against our whole community. Yes, we busted out of the church closet, but we are against all shame and condemnation being brought against the entire LGBTQ+ community. It may be our unwanted and unasked for battle but it is for *all* of us that we remain faithful to speak against religious leaders bearing false witness about God’s love for His LGBTQ+ children.

Those are my thoughts :). If the Nashville Statement was hurtful and discouraging to you, I wish you peace and encouragement. May any shame and condemnation fall of with healthy confidence and joy.

Being Free is Good,

The Blood On My Hands

Tuesday it was my joy and honor to meet Reverend Terri Steed Pierce of Joy MCC Church Orlando. Lately, I have been yearning to get back into spiritual fellowship and decided it was time to reach out to her. We met yesterday to get acquainted and I shared my story. I also shared how I wanted to reclaim my spiritual calling, gifts, skill set, and use them for good.

We talked for 90 minutes. Plenty of ground was covered including the potential of working together to help others heal from and find their way out of religious stigma and legalistic Christianity in all its forms; specifically in how it manifests in ex-gay/conversion ideology. Not only that, we talked about ways to help people thrive as spiritual beings and provide pastoral care. More on that as it develops.

Today’s post is about an unexpected blessing that occurred while talking to her. When I was sharing about all the feedback I got when I first came back out, I mentioned that a vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community was incredibly supportive and gracious. On the other hand, alongside many in the conservative religious community saying I was a heretic, a few gay folks said they would never forgive me. I was told a few times, “You have blood on your hands! We will never forgive or accept you.”

At one point, in response to an email, I wrote, “You say I have blood on my hands, and after Michael’s suicide, I am afraid to look down and find that indeed I might… I can understand if you never forgive me, it’s hard for me to forgive myself.”

Even typing that last sentence brought up mourning in my heart.

Now, I know I have never literally killed someone. I have even done a number of suicide interventions over the course of my adult life. However, I was in an important position at Exodus. I honestly believed what I taught and thought regarding an ex-gay worldview was the good and right thing to do. I walked my talk. But, now it is obvious that I was also in denial. Denial that my efforts and beliefs to help people “change” their sexual orientation did support and empower systemic homophobia that rips apart families, solidified non-lifegiving marriages, confused many singles into a life of loneliness and pain in the name of celibacy, and lead many to feel their only option was to self-destruct through dysfunctional behavior and or suicide.

After Tuesday’s meeting, the thought of my past contribution to that systemic hurt and pain went to a deeper level. This time, I didn’t shut it down. I took a long hard look.

As a result, in a metaphorical sense, I feel that my past self is somewhat like the Apostle Paul (when he was the Pharisee of Pharisees, Saul) who the scriptures reveal as never picking up a stone to throw at Stephen (the first Christian martyr), but instead, he held the cloaks of those who did. He cared enough about them to keep their clothes clean and yet approved of the horrendous murder of Stephen because he thought it was the right and godly thing to do. For years I heard reports of the damage and destruction of ex-gay theology/ideology and refused to believe the horrible reports were actually the result of what I believed and taught. I was great at blame-shifting, “I am so sorry but that hasn’t been my experience” kind of attitude. I was in denial of my own misery. I was much more interested in protecting the appearance (cloaks) of being a “success story” and our other leaders being seen as experts. I believed the ex-gay hype that what we were doing was the right and godly thing to do instead of really looking at how horrible we were acting in the name of “love and truth.” Plus, I honestly believed there wasn’t any other option than to believe the way I did.

Until Michael.

Michael’s death revealed the symbolic blood on my hands, and the various cloaks (excuses, appearances, lies) I was trying to keep clean during my Exodus years. I hate to admit to being so incredibly selfish but it’s true, I was tone deaf to others severe pain until it ripped through my own heart. I wish I had listened, truly listened to others pain. I am deeply sorrowful that I didn’t.

In our talk Tuesday, I shared that my passion and vision is to help the LGBTQ+ community carefully confront, heal from, and leave stigma and religious legalism. But until that meeting, I hadn’t recognized that there was a large part of me that still felt like I didn’t deserve to do so. It was even larger than I expected and explains why I have had such a hard time envisioning myself stepping back into my “pastoral” calling until a few months ago.

That was all exposed when Rev. Terri said,

Isn’t it just like Jesus to take the very man (Paul) who participated in the murder of God’s people to be the guy to minister to and serve God’s people? Isn’t it just like Jesus to take a guy like you, someone who did all THAT in opposition to gay people, turn you around and send you back to serve the very same people? That sounds like Jesus to me and I think you will help many specifically because of your experience. I look forward to seeing what happens.

I often feel before I know why I feel what I feel. When she said that it was like a lightning bolt went through me and my perspective (and hope) completely changed in a moment. A heavy burden I didn’t realize was weighing me down just fell off.

I found my voice over the past two and half years and I have known for quite a while what I have to offer as a gay man of faith, and as a leader. But, today my “hands” aren’t frozen with guilt and shame. Now that I have been freed from the shackles of the past for a while now, I am ready to get to work and help others find help, hope and thrive.

Guilt can be sneaky and often prefers to remain hidden so it can immobilize the good and creative. However, when guilt is exposed and owned, stagnate pools can become life-giving and free-flowing rivers.

Thanks, Rev. Terri for the personal joy you helped bring as a result of our meeting.

Labels Are Fickle, A Substantive Core Is Better

Brat, Sissy, Fag, Addict, Charismatic, Baptist, Non-Denom, Gay, Ex-gay, Former Ex-gay, Democrat, Republican, Independent, Condescending, Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Loud Mouth, Bitch, Kind, Pastoral, Mean, Aloof, Smart, Dumb, A man of character, a Hypocrite, Humble, Trustworthy, Servant, Capricious, Fun, Drama Queen…

All the labels above, and far more, have been attached to me in some form or fashion during this journey. Some were well earned, some were just mean.

I mean COME on! I am NEVER a DRAMA Queen! :::rolling my eyes into a glare, fake flipping my hair, stomping my heel, crossing my arms::: #Hmmph 🙂

Today, I don’t know exactly where I fit. The only label that permanently sticks is my name, Randy. I am still a Christ Follower who happens to be gay. But, am I liberal? Progressive? Evangelical? I dunno. Over the past couple of years, I don’t really care what labels I wear or are ascribed to me. What I care about is just trying to live a substantive life; to know who I am without trying to earn and keep a label like a Boy Scout Merit Badge.

Until I came out a few years ago, most of life was spent trying to appease the inner voice that said, “you are not smart enough or good enough to figure things out on your own. Let others lead the way and open doors.” It took a seriously f***ed up mid-life crisis to open my eyes to the fact that even as a “leader” I was still addicted to others approval, operating out of “learned helplessness,” and that the substance of my life consisted of other people’s beliefs.

Over the past month, I have been experiencing a new season in my spiritual walk, one where the substance of my authentic self is finding its voice in areas I have been reluctant to go for the past four or so years. It may not be the easiest thing to label, but it is so much more peaceful to know that I am abiding in my own skin and honestly living out of a substantive core, and not someone else’s stigmatized ideas.

It seems much more profitable to focus on our own character and integrity being substantive instead of worrying about others ability to do the same; to not wear a label like a badge of honor but to honestly live out the substance of who we genuinely are. Living in authenticity at our core and not just in name creates life and joy for us, loved ones, and brings about Beauty in the world.

Oh, and a little extra grace for those of us with a dramatic flare is always appreciated. 😉

The Treasure Is You, You Are The Treasure

I want to be in church right now, I don’t want to be in church right now; that’s the great ambivalence.

Plenty of people, myself included, detest the institutionalized and “branded” church for many good reasons. Yet, it’s The Treasure within those churches that I yearn for. I am not talking about the personal bank accounts funding the budget, beautiful modern or ornate fixtures, and trappings of this or that program or amenity.

I am talking about the real Treasure within the Church; you. I miss being with *you* on Sunday.

It’s worth repeating for emphasis, the Treasure is you. You are the Treasure. You are a Treasure to me.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross and rise from the dead to create an institutionalized fan club of alienated members singing in harmony while their hearts are in discord. His Atonement didn’t clear the way to the Father yet call us to obstruct fellowship, objectify heartache with cliched answers, and judge each other with worldly “us vs. them” thinking.

That’s why I as an openly gay man am not with you this morning. I am not able to get beyond the label placed on me of being one of “them,” today. My hurt and anger have led me to respond in kind in some ways; making it all the more hurtful.

When some think of the treasure within the church they quickly, and rightly, point to the parable of the “pearl of great price.” That’s all true. It is heartbreakingly awesome that we have a Savior who would go to such lengths to lead us Home. Also, if you have been a Christian just a short time, you know that parable also works in other ways as well. Including how it can be seen as showing us that the Treasure we have in Christ is worth everything as well. This post cannot be written without mentioning that; it’s of primary importance.

However, The Treasure I see is in you, as a peer; you’re worth transcends estimation. If I were looking you right in the eyes, I would say, with full belief and conviction, I *know* you are a treasure to this world and to the people you are in a relationship with. I love the song of your life. You are a Treasure regardless of what any of us, or maybe even yourself, see. Even favorable judgments of you aren’t enough, you are a magnificent mystery; a person even a God fell in love with.

When Jesus looked out at the people torturing and killing Him, He didn’t see a failed, murderous and hypocritical church; He saw The Treasure, His Bride.

You.

I am not Jesus. Thank God, literally, or we would have all been doomed during my first three-year-old tantrum. If we made it past that we definitely would have seen hellfire and brimstone the first time I tried to drive in Los Angeles traffic! I am not anywhere close to the suffering and pain Christ went through. Not anywhere near that, but the hurt and suffering that keeps me from wanting to sit next to you in a church today are something I need to take His lead in looking past. My past is checked with trying to live out something I wasn’t, but when I fell in love with the real Treasure within the Church, His Bride, that was genuine. I miss Her. I miss us.

I miss you.

My Spiritual Home is with Christ in my heart, but if He could see beyond His heart to the Treasure of you, I yearn to take my place next to you on Sunday mornings again.